RALEIGH — A clean-energy advocacy group wants an investigation into whether a longtime North Carolina legislator violated ethics laws by pushing legislation sought by Duke Energy Corp. while his law firm did legal work for a gas pipeline project.
The group NC WARN filed a complaint Wednesday with the State Ethics Commission asking for an official look at the connections between the country's largest electricity company and state Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat.
NC WARN says Blue's law firm is collecting fees for suing dozens of landowners to make way for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project partly owned by Duke Energy. The 605-mile natural gas pipeline would originate in West Virginia and run through Virginia and North Carolina, almost reaching the South Carolina border.
Blue is not personally representing the company, but he acknowledged in a statement his law firm represented the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC in several eminent domain cases.
NC WARN said the extent and timing of Blue's legal work for the pipeline entity primarily owned by Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Virginia-based Dominion Energy should be investigated to see if the Democrat and the power companies have further connections.
Blue also is sponsoring legislation that would let Duke Energy get multi-year rate increases at a time when it plans to pass along billions of dollars in construction on to consumers.
"The ethics issue is clear-cut: Sen. Blue can't serve the public interest when he's heavily paid to serve the diverging interests of Duke Energy," NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren said in a statement.
Blue, a former state House speaker, has served in the General Assembly for 35 years. He rejected suggestions that his financial interests were connected to his support for changing way Duke Energy is regulated.
"I am confident in the position that I've taken. I haven't been influenced by anything that Duke has done," Blue told reporters. "One would be stupid to serve in this body and be compensated for taking some act as a result of what they did do."
A total of 88 complaints were either filed with the North Carolina State Ethics Commission in 2018 or were carried over and still pending last year, commission attorney Kathleen Edwards said.
Only nine were referred to legislative, judicial or other oversight bodies for further consideration of potential sanctions, she said. Nine cases remain pending, while the rest were dismissed because they weren't properly filed, didn't concern a person covered under state law or there was insufficient evidence of a violation, Edwards said.
Associated Press Writers Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.
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